On this trip also was my high school government teacher, whom I am glad to now call a friend. I asked him whether he would have joined the civil rights movement in that moment (despite his being a white man). He said he liked to think that he would.
At the time, I was more strident than I am now (I think). My progressive politics are more tempered by the reality in which I operate, with part of that reality being that politics is for grown-ups and about compromise among diverse preferences in a pluralistic society. I insisted that I would have been on the front lines. I like to think I would have been, and indeed have protested some of the egregious problems that I saw, whether the Iraq War or the decision in Ferguson, Missouri. But I do not know, and in the face of perhaps the greatest shock to our political culture in a couple generations (perhaps September 11, but it is unclear how they will measure against one another), I realize that there are legitimate concerns as to one’s willingness to put one’s safety at risk when seeking to defend the principles that matter most. Because while I believe there is nobility in exercising the right to peaceful protest for important causes, there is less nobility in martyrdom.
To be clear, I view Mr. Trump’s election win as legitimate. I do not believe that the election was rigged. I do not believe the election was hacked. I believe that the Democratic Party underestimated the extent of blue collar economic anxiety and white racial resentment, underestimated to what extent that would drive them to turn out for Mr. Trump. And I believe that rules of the game (Electoral College) were such that her votes were not distributed in a way as to produce a win for Secretary Clinton, and that the problems of the Electoral College should be addressed moving forward but not retroactively. And I believe that it is deeply hypocritical for those on the left to reject the outcome of the election, having condemned Mr. Trump for his declaration that he would only accept the results if he won. The proper time to have condemned Mr. Trump’s candidacy was during the campaign and on November 8, and sadly, many Americans will pay a dear price.
While the election was legitimate (Russia issues notwithstanding – yes, that’s a big caveat but I’m not going to go there), the policies that the victor represents are not. As I have written previously, I believe that America’s greatness lies in its embrace of diversity, of its recognition that our national origin, the color of our skin, our religion, or who we love does not lessen what we are worth. I believe that Mr. Trump’s hostility to women, minorities, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and the LGBT community are a direct affront to our basic values of fundamental decency, and perhaps even more so that his lack of respect for democratic institutions and a free press compromise our ability to defend these rights in the face of ideological disagreement.
I have been torn as to the proper message of protest and other opposition to Mr. Trump – a demagogue who was elected legitimately this time – given that he is not yet in office and thus has not yet enacted any of the dangerous and un-American policies that he claims to defend (I use the word “claims” given his marked inconsistency in views).
But in watching as hate crimes surge around the nation – with over 200 incidents of hateful harassment, intimidation, and violence reported in the three days following Election Day – I believe that now is the time for vigilance, and to put pressure on those Republicans who were not in the Trump coalition. I believe that waiting until the inauguration is far too late and thus in this case, too dangerous. The transition team is at work in shaping Mr. Trump’s agenda, from cabinet picks to particular policy items, and while it appears that healthcare will not be as decimated as we might have thought, it is still early, and the cabinet secretaries being floated are not policy experts nearly so much as the most obsequious among his inner circle (e.g., Giuliani, Flynn, Clarke, Palin, Carson). Mr. Trump could conceivably forge a more moderate path and be restrained by the more traditional Republicans (e.g., Paul Ryan), but they are not yet showing a commitment toward that end.
So to the extent that American voters can pressure them, to raise loud (though peaceful) voices in defense of basic equality and civil rights, there is no time to waste, whether in the form of protest or in the form of donating to important causes that are currently under siege. It is not about Democrat versus Republican, blue versus red, it is about preserving the basic principles of democracy and equality within which we can wage these important policy battles that divide the parties. And it is about moving America forward, rather than reverting not so much to family values generally but rather the Jim Crow-era values.
We are not having a Bloody Sunday right now. I pray that we won’t. But I believe that we owe it to those who lost their lives, who risked their lives, broke their flesh and bones fighting for basic principles of civil rights and voting rights, to not squander the progress of recent decades, but to fight to uphold these principles that are, in fact, what make America great.
I’m in. Are you?